Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 13

Mordin lived up to his reputation for innovation, thank heavens. The scatterbrain sang me a couple of show tunes while he readied a demonstration and explained things at length. And here I'd thought coffee the only delightfully bad habit that other species had picked up from Humans.

The gist of his solution involved armor and some sort of negation field that made us undetectable to the little bugs. The big ones would see us just fine, but there was only so much he could do with what we’d given him. I ordered the team to bring every piece of armor they owned to the lab. I had one more thing to do before we reached Horizon so I headed down to check on the baby.

He floated in his tank, eyes closed and head down. I recalled what Okeer had said, that this was a perfect specimen of the Krogan species, one who would defeat the genophage by ignoring it. I didn’t know what the hell that was supposed to mean, but I did know that I needed the brute strength and determination on my team. With any luck I wouldn’t have to shoot him and blow him out of the cargo doors. I certainly wasn’t going to let Cerberus have him for a toy.

I let EDI and, by extension, Joker know what I was doing and then set the tank to drain. The full-grown baby fell down on all fours vomiting up the liquid that had been in all four of its lungs. It was such a lovely sight. I felt breakfast stirring angrily but I couldn’t afford to be distracted with retching when he'd finished. Sure enough, he coughed up a wad of phlegm and then rushed me, carrying me across the room and into the wall. He babbled a bit about his “father” and mental imprinting then he named himself Grunt. It was very strange to watch someone being born and immediately try to kill you. He carried on a mental struggle that was far too adult for a newborn but which convinced me that, if I could bond him to me, he would be a serious asset to my team.

As he held me by the throat my responses were a bit raspier than normal. “I want you on my team, Grunt. I need power and stamina.” I was glad I hadn't said anything like that to Garrus in the shower but it was not the time to blush. “You need strong enemies worth fighting. I can provide a steady stream of those, starting in a few hours.” He considered that for a minute and backed off, letting me put my feet back on the floor. I controlled my need to gasp for air as my breath whistled through my throat and simply stared at him in best alpha-dog tradition.

“How did you know I wouldn't kill you?”

I glanced down at the pistol in my hand, still pointed at his squishy middle. “I had a feeling,” I said casually. Grunt grinned, which for a Krogan’s wide mouth meant a lot of teeth. He really was a cute little guy, two feet taller than me or not. His massive forehead plate hadn't grown in yet so he looked more exposed, more open than the adult Krogan I'd met. As we talked about what he'd been taught in the tank through Okeer's weird brainwashing technique I wanted to pat him on the head and tell him we'd figure things out together. I decided I'd probably be safer just lending an ear and keeping my hands to myself, though. My throat still burned.

Once we'd settled things, I took him down to the lab to get his armor treated as well. Since we didn't conveniently happen to have any krogan-sized clothes lying around he'd have to hang out in the lab until Mordin was finished. I wasn't about stay for naked Grunt time so I told EDI to keep the doors locked until the baby was dressed again and stepped out into the CIC. Joker informed me that we would be in shuttle range in about an hour, giving me just enough time to clear my mail and chat with Jacob about upgrading the Normandy's shields. If he kept busy with that maybe he wouldn't notice that I never let him leave the armory.

When Mordin pinged my omnitool to let me know Grunt was decent once more, I asked Garrus to join them in the lab and walked down the hallway. I entered at just as he walked in the other door and he immediately looked at the floor. Damn, I was going to have to do something about that. He couldn't be bashful around me if we were going to keep kicking ass together. For the moment I just ordered him to suit up for the mission.

I'd promised Grunt a good fight so I figured I'd better deliver. He, Garrus, and I rode down to the surface, staring at the enormous ship that hung over the colony. We knew they'd been there for a few hours but it had to take a lot longer than that to paralyze, pod, and carry off thousands of people. I hoped Kaidan wasn't one of the first to go. I would take their ship apart with my bare hands until I found him, if that's what I had to do. I wondered what the hell he'd been doing this far out and so deeply classified in the first place. Had the Alliance already known about the Collectors or was this just an unrelated mission? It mattered little in the short term but I was curious to hear what he had to say about it.

Garrus and I explained the situation to Grunt on the way down. The shuttle landed on a quiet stretch of grass and we made our way into the main colony. Instead of being eerily silent as Freedom's Progress had been the whole place buzzed with the sound of the swarms and the occasional far-off scream confirming that the colonists had not yet all been taken. As we dispatched the few Collectors we encountered we found pod after pod, some empty still but many with rigid human forms inside them. We didn't break them open then. If we could get rid of the ship there'd be plenty of time for that later.

Indeed, the further we moved toward the ship the more of the chitinous bastards there were. It seemed they'd abandoned moving the pods for fighting us. That offered two benefits: the colonists were in less danger and I proved to Grunt that I could keep my word. The Collectors were tough nuts to crack, with the emphasis on nuts.

For no apparent reason one of them occasionally cracked apart and started glowing. It would then say nonsensical things like “I know you feel this” and “I am the harbinger of your destruction”. We kept proving them wrong but they kept doing it. Like I said, nuts. Oh, and they had robo-zombies with them, too. These husks seemed tougher than those Garrus and I had seen in encounters before I’d died, unless you happened to hit them in the navel. Then their legs blew off, which was disgusting but kept them from thumping you to death.

We figured out why the Alliance had Kaidan on Horizon pretty quickly. They'd installed defensive laser turrets throughout the colony but they didn't work. Kaidan's tech expertise and rank made him an understandable choice to lead a small-team mission this far out but it seemed an odd coincidence that he happened to be here when I caught up with the Collectors. EDI promised it could make the turrets work if we could find a transmitter tower to give it access to the system. While he had me on the line Joker notified me that the AI had traced information from the first Normandy and the Collectors' cruiser that confirmed that it was the same beast that had slaughtered half of my original crew and caused my death. In other words, it was their stupid fault I was in this mess in the first place.

“Gee, and they just happened to show up here where Kaidan is and TIM just happened to find out where they were going? Convenient,” I responded. I cursed fluently and Grunt cocked his head at the acid in my tone. I didn't have to hide the truth on this one. Cerberus would expect me to react exactly as I was and I was happy to oblige while I shot husks and Collectors alike.

It seemed every wave of reinforcements included larger and larger creatures until some huge thing with a mouth full of heads came bobbing into the field around the tower. I rolled my eyes at Garrus and Grunt began laughing. “Shepard, when you promise worthy enemies you really mean it!” He gave some muddled battle cry and started hammering the thing. Garrus and I cracked smiles at one another, the awkwardness of earlier lost for now, and we joined in the dodging, weaving, and general mayhem of bringing the thing down. EDI announced that the turrets were on-line and proceeded to blast the huge ship from every direction at once. Apparently with this last creature the Collectors had shot their wad and the cruiser quickly fled. Garrus and I did a short victory dance as Grunt watched in confusion.

Kaidan better not be on that ship, I thought and abruptly quit celebrating. I knew we had no way to follow them to wherever they hid. I turned to start searching the immobilized survivors and breaking open the pods when one of them popped out of hiding and started screaming at me for letting the bastards take half of the colony. I opened my mouth to tell him exactly where he could stuff his colony when Kaidan walked around the corner and told the yahoo exactly who I was.

We stood staring at each other for a moment. His melty brown eyes made me go all gooey in places that had been functioning a lot longer than my brain. Here was my package, safe and sound. I blinked away the tears of relief, deeming them unseemly at the close of battle, especially for a commander who hadn't lost any troops. He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around me. It was lucky we both wore armor or we'd have had broken ribs from that hug.

I took a deep breath and blinked faster. I was not going to cry right now. Kaidan nuzzled his lips next to my left ear and whispered, “You smell fantastic.” I thought I might have to go change my pants. He continued, “I'm sorry for this but it won't be for long.” Then he let go, stepped back, and started to yell at me.

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